West O'ahu wins Best of West baseball
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
The West O'ahu all-star baseball team won its second straight Best of the West Classic championship yesterday with a 2-1 victory over the Yakima (Wash.) Knights at Aloha Stadium.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Yakima's Jerald Estill was tagged out by West O'ahu's Dane Marcouiller attempting to steal second base. Estill made the final out of the game, won by West O'ahu, 2-1.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
For the second straight year, problems with sportsmanship plagued the championship bracket of the tournament for 19-year-olds and under. And for the second straight year, West O'ahu was one of the teams involved.
Yesterday's finalists did not shake hands after the game, and players from both teams were "calling each other out" just prior to the awards ceremony. At one point, they had to be separated near home plate.
For safety reasons, Yakima left the field as West O'ahu was accepting its trophy, and stadium security was on alert for any potential conflicts.
"The way it ended does leave a pit in my stomach that I don't like," tournament co-director Bill Berger said. "It's not a great feeling. One of the reasons we do this is to see Hawai'i kids play ball competitively against Mainland teams. But it's also meant to be a great sportsmanship tournament. I think it's definitely something we need to look into for next year."
The game started quietly, as Yakima took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third after Tim Buns doubled and scored on a fielder's choice.
But the chatter began on the inning's final out, as Brian Thomson grounded into a force play at second. Someone from the West O'ahu dugout, apparently referring to Thomson's batting gloves, yelled, "Why don't you try using them to get a hit next time?"
That triggered a previously tame West O'ahu bench, which suddenly became much more vocal.
West O'ahu tied the score at 1-1 in the fifth, when Kyle Yanabu led off with a single, stole second and scored after two errors.
One inning later, West O'ahu's Cheyne Todani became a spark plug in more ways than one. He led off with a line single to center field, whooping and flailing his right arm as he made his turn. Todani obviously distracted Yakima starter Brandon Gottier, inducing two pickoff attempts and then a balk.
"I wanted to get the team into the game," Todani said afterward. "It gets our team up, and it seems to get in the other team's head, too. If I can get the other team to start thinking about me, I know it's going to be harder on them.
"It's part of the game. I don't play dirty. I play hard."
Todani's antics did appear to rattle Yakima, which committed an error and gave up two stolen bases after the run scored.
But with the game's intensity now as thick as the humid afternoon air, Gottier struck out three batters in a row to end the sixth.
Gottier, a right-hander, used a lively fastball from his sidearm delivery to pitch a four-hitter. He struck out 10 and walked none.
"He's gotten up to 90 (mph) before," Yakima coach Rusty McEwen said. "The problem is, we can't get him any run support."
Ricky Bauer, who pitched a five-hitter, got the first two batters of the seventh to pop out before allowing a single to Buns. But pinch-runner Jerald Estill was caught stealing at second to end the game.
That did not stop the tension, however, as the players stared one another down during the time normally reserved for handshakes. Taunts and verbal challenges ensued.
"I tried to tell my players to stay cool, but at a certain point things got out of control," McEwen said. "Some of that is part of the game, but (West O'ahu) kept going after the game was over. I mean, they got the win, the game is over can't they just shut up? At that point, it's just ridiculous."
One Yakima player, shaking his head as he walked up the stadium tunnel, said, "You can only stay cool for so long."
West O'ahu coach Ivan Yamasaki said his staff addressed the issue of taunting with his players.
"We're jumping on the boys for that," Yamasaki said. "We tell them, 'We don't play like that.' But a lot of these guys are college players, and in college, there's a lot of ragging. It's in the heat of battle."
Yamasaki was an assistant coach last year when West O'ahu was involved in a similar situation against a team from Dallas in the semifinals. He said this year's incident "was minor compared to last year."
Yamasaki added that the umpires also are responsible for maintaining control.
"If they're letting things go, then it's just part of the game," he said.
Home plate umpire Ozzie Ortiz characterized the trash talking yesterday as "nothing major."
Yakima fans, who shouted sarcastically, "Nice hospitality, Hawai'i!", may disagree.
"They're a good team," McEwen said of West O'ahu, "but as much as it costs for us to come over here, they've gotta show more class than that."